Bodies of War

World War I and the Politics of Commemoration in America, 1919-1933

335 pages

30 illustrations

November, 2011

ISBN: 9780814725184



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Lisa M. Budreau, Ph.D, is a Senior Curator of Military History at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. She is editor of Answering the Call: The U.S. Army Nurse Corps, 1917-1919.

All books by Lisa M. Budreau

The United States lost thousands of troops during World War I, and the government gave next-of-kin a choice about what to do with their fallen loved ones: ship them home for burial or leave them permanently in Europe, in makeshift graves that would be eventually transformed into cemeteries in France, Belgium, and England. World War I marked the first war in which the United States government and military took full responsibility for the identification, burial, and memorialization of those killed in battle, and as a result, the process of burying and remembering the dead became intensely political. The government and military attempted to create a patriotic consensus on the historical memory of World War I in which war dead were not only honored but used as a symbol to legitimize America’s participation in a war not fully supported by all citizens.

The saga of American soldiers killed in World War I and the efforts of the living to honor them is a neglected component of United States military history, and in this fascinating yet often macabre account, Lisa M. Budreau unpacks the politics and processes of the competing interest groups involved in the three core components of commemoration: repatriation, remembrance, and return. She also describes how relatives of the fallen made pilgrimages to French battlefields, attended largely by American Legionnaires and the Gold Star Mothers, a group formed by mothers of sons killed in World War I, which exists to this day. Throughout, and with sensitivity to issues of race and gender, Bodies of War emphasizes the inherent tensions in the politics of memorialization and explores how those interests often conflicted with the needs of veterans and relatives.


  • “Budreau’s book is a monument to the power of civil society in framing American commemorative practices. She brings Gold Star Mothers back where they belong, into the center of the story of war and its aftermath. Through her study, we can still hear their voices, full of dignity and sadness. Here is a fine contribution to the history of American memory culture.”

    —Jay Winter, author of Remembering War: The Great War between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century

  • “A remarkable story of the three R’s—repatriation, remembrance, and return—one of the most poignant to appear in recent years about American participation in World War I. It has its moments in the work of what later became the funeral industry. The far wider importance, here for the first time, concerns the nationalizing of grief.”

    —Robert H. Ferrell, author of Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1921

  • Bodies of War makes a strong and innovative contribution to the social and cultural history of America’s Great War. Budreau shows how Americans’ ambiguous understanding of the war interacted with their need to grieve and comprehend the loss of their sons in the nation’s first European war. Her powerful argument makes an important contribution to our knowledge not just of the war itself, but of the many ways that the war continued to impact America long after its conclusion.”

    —Michael Neiberg, editor of The World War I Reader

  • "Budreau's account of the American way of remembrance uncovers a neglected chapter in the disputatious political history of the 1920s. Examining dozens of archival collections, both public and private, she has recovered the voices of mothers and other relatives of the dead. Bodies of War is a thoughtful, sometimes poignant contribution to our understanding of America's Great War experience."

    —Robert H. Zieger, Journal of American History

  • “Budreau offers an insightful perspective on how the US dealt with the aftermath of the Great War as officials sought to commemorate those who died in faraway places... For those with interests in the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, or military, ethnic, and gender history, this book is a must... Summing Up: Essential.”